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Posted on: Friday, 07 August 2009 by Rajiv Popat

The Skip

Fred is at my desk on a Monday morning.

Fred; as usual has a problem with his manager.

I cringe.

What Fred is indulging in right now; can be otherwise referred to as a 'skip'. Put very simply; skip --- is a time when you decide to stop reporting to your boss and 'skip up' to your boss's boss.

 

Whether you are a manager or a young and budding engineer; chances are that you have either used 'skips' or have witnessed a couple of skips being used in your professional life.

Who has the ability to exercise 'skips' in your organization; to a large extent; will eventually define the whiner to builder ratio that ultimately prevails in your organization.

Positive Skips

During my young and budding days as an engineer at Multiplitaxion Inc; we worked on countless weekends and late nights for more than a year; only to discover when the year ended that no-one other than our reporting manager knew what we were working on. Turns out; this young and budding manager of ours had a history for quietly absorbing every single drop of credit without passing a single iota of it over to anyone in the team.

Months later; me along with a couple of engineers decided to exercise the 'skip' when our manager was out on vacation.

We slogged countless hours to finish a project three weeks before it's finish date; purely because we wanted to send the completion email before our manager returned from his vacation. Doing that allowed us to strike a conversation with a technical director of the organization and open up a new communication channel that did not exist before.

Put simply; it allowed us to ship; and show rather evidently; that we actually functioned better as a team without this manager of ours.

It worked.

Within weeks we had a lot more flexibility of taking decisions; dropping features and doing what worked best for the product. 

If I can think of the number of times I've exercised a skip in my; I would consider skips as 'isolated' and a rather rare events in my life. If I'm reporting to you; the only quality I expect out of you; for me not to even think about exercising a skip is --- empathy.

Unless you are a downright asshole; skips are off-limits in my professional life.

However; If you are an asshole and if you give me an opportunity to exercise a skip --- I will.

Negative Skips

Today; every once in a while I see a young and budding engineer like Fred; trying to exercise a 'skip' on his manager. Skips; which were a rare incident; and a rather powerful tool in the hands of builders when we were growing up as young and budding engineers seems to have transformed into a tool to jump up to the next level for ambitious but incapable programmers in the software development world of today.

I've seen:

  1. A young and budding engineer take a shot at estimation where he was merely a part of an email alias that was CC'ed when a vice-president asked a technical architect to do the estimation. Turns out; the architect was off for a day and this young and budding engineer couldn't resist sending a 3x higher man-hour estimate only to make a fool of himself.
  2. A young and budding developer gate crash into a Vice President's room to introduce himself and talk about what he was working on; only to find out that his manager had already kept the vice-president well informed about the great job this developer was doing.
  3. A young and budding developer seeking help and advice from a technical director ever time he had any difficulties with an implementation; only to be gently requested by the technical director that it would be good if he asked his team lead before he approached someone else.

Handling Skips

If you manage managers; or team leads; chances are that every once in a while you will see someone attempting a 'skip'. Which skips you entertain and which ones you do not; will eventually decide who thrives in your organization --- builders or whiners.

Not entertaining a positive skip of a genuine builder is seeking due credit and recognition for his work can have long term catastrophic effects on your organization or your team.

Entertaining too many 'skips' or encouraging them as a general practice; can be equally catastrophic and destroy the very team spirit that is the secret sauce for success of your organization or your team.

I cannot give you rules to help you decide which skips you should entertain and which you do not; but every time I see a manager exploiting his team; I feel like gently nudging a member or two to exercise a 'skip'.

Every time I see a Fred; who isn't seriously a kickass builder himself; trying to exercise a 'skip' on his capable manager; by giving me details of every single line of code he wrote --- I cringe.

Skips are powerful tools; use them wisely and teach your team to use them wisely.

How many examples of skips have you seen in your professional life?

How many of them have been positive and how many of them have been negative?

Have you ever felt the need to exercise a skip yourself; dear reader?

Discuss.

Note: This article is a part of a Work In Progress Book. To Read connected articles read the Builders At Work category of this blog.